No, I’m not pregnant. Nor am I a veterinarian (yet). However, I do anticipate that, one day, I may be a pregnant veterinarian. That time may be years off, but having kids in a profession as intense as veterinary medicine does make many of us women concerned about the logistics.
The title of the post is the actual Google search I performed to look into what information or resources were out there regarding being a pregnant vet — a search was prompted by a dinner discussion panel on “work-life balance” as a veterinarian. To my surprise the only websites that were in the results were articles about a veterinarian who killed his pregnant significant other.That was an indication to me that there are no obvious online resources out there for women who are in the profession of veterinary medicine and want kids. Considering that the profession of veterinary medicine is overwhelmingly female at 85%, I found this paucity of resources to be frightening.
If not for the aforementioned dinner discussion panel on work-life balance in the field of veterinary medicine, I don’t know what I would do to gain information or advice about starting a family as a veterinarian other than simply talking to other veterinarians who are mothers.
So, as a way to share the advice provided by the veterinarians and veterinary students on the discussion panel, all of which have children, many of whom are married, I took some notes that I will share here for your edification.
- When is a good time to have kids? Most of the veterinarians suggested completing all of your training before starting a family. Essentially that means, if you are considering doing an internship and residency after completing your veterinary degree, complete all of that training before having children. One vet essentially said, “Don’t think you’ll go back to an internship or residency once you start a family, it’s not likely.” At the same time, those vets who had children before they completed their veterinary education noted that while they sometimes feel guilty for not being there enough for their child/family, they do feel that having a child keeps them grounded and gives them perspective about what’s important in life.
- Wait until you’ve got the hang of things to go on maternity leave. Maternity leave is hard to come back from. Many of the vets suggested giving yourself enough time to get into the swing of things with your career so you feel competent before having children, if at all possible. Some said that period of time is 1.5-2 years, others said upwards of 3-5 years, so the time period that it takes for an individual to feel like they’ve got the hang of things as a veterinarian is variable and greatly dependent upon the individual. Nevertheless, be forgiving of yourself when you return from maternity leave — it probably won’t be an easy transition between the relearning process and leaving your child after devoting so much time to them during your maternity leave. It will be difficult, but you will get the hang of things.
- Maintain your relationship. “Make sure your relationship with your significant other is healthy and happy because getting a divorce is miserable and you will probably end up regretting it.” Not my words, but I think it speaks volumes to the importance of not just making sure our children get our attention, but that our significant others get the attention they need from us, especially if we are working long hours during veterinary school clinics, residencies, or as our daily job. Make sure you foster your bond with that person — whether it is by getting a babysitter and spending the night out with your sweetheart or giving the kids to grandma & grandpa so you can spend a relaxing weekend at home. One panel member even described getting someone to care for their children overnight just so they could check into the Hyatt down the road and spend a night together, get some good quality sleep in a comfortable bed, and sleep in. Whatever it takes for you to maintain your relationship (and sanity) — do it!
- Having a significant other with a flexible schedule is a blessing. Your hours as a vet may not be flexible at times (or at all) and you may not be able to get out of the hospital at 5pm every day to pick up the kids, so having a significant other that has some flexibility in their schedule can be such a blessing and can make your life so much easier. But don’t worry, you will make it work even if you both have hectic schedules.
- Having family support nearby to help with childcare. This is one area where I feel envious of my classmates. Most of my classmates are from California and will likely live in an area that is in some proximity to their parents or other family members in their future as a veterinarian. That means that they have the potential of childcare for their children readily available, something that can be helpful from early on in maternity leave throughout the children’s lives.
Please realize that this advice was given by a variety of veterinarians in a variety of circumstances and it should not be misinterpreted as the “correct” way of doing things. The way I see it, there is n convenient time to have a child; to those of us who consider having a family to be a priority in our life, we will make it work, regardless of the situation.
Update: The AVMA recently published an article entitled “Pregnancy in Practice” in which a few female veterinarians spoke about what their experiences were as a pregnant veterinarian and as a mother with a young child.